Spain coastguard temporarily suspends search for migrant boat off Canary Isles

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Spain’s coastguard temporarily suspended Wednesday a search for three migrant boats reported lost off the Canary Islands after poor weather prevented a plane from being deployed to the area.

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“Meteorological conditions are currently unfavorable to carry out a search with aircraft,” a coastguard spokeswoman said, without giving further details.

The situation will be reassessed later to see if an airplane can be deployed, she added.

The three missing boats are believed to have left the coast of Senegal in recent weeks, according to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that helps migrant vessels in distress.

The biggest boat had left the southern fishing town of Kafountine in the Casamance part of Senegal on June 27 with around 200 people, it said.

During their searches on Monday, rescuers found a boat carrying 78 sub-Saharan migrants who were taken to Gran Canaria island.

But according to the NGO this is not one of the three missing vessels.

In a statement Tuesday, Senegal’s foreign ministry denied that 300 Senegalese migrants had disappeared at sea.

“The verifications that have been carried out show that this information is completely unfounded,” it said.

The ministry said 260 Senegalese were rescued between June 28 and July 9 in Moroccan waters.

But it did not specify whether these people were aboard the boats initially reported by Caminando Fronteras. The NGO said the vessels had departed between June 23 and 27.

Caminando Fronteras responded in a statement on Wednesday, saying it was able to confirm that the rescues mentioned by the Senegalese foreign ministry were of other boats “that also left the coast of Senegal.”

The Spanish islands have for years been a target for migrant smugglers, who see it as a gateway to Europe.

Senegal lies around 1,500 kilometers (950 miles) from the archipelago, separated by perilous seas with strong currents.

Trips are typically made in large canoes, also called pirogues, that are often unseaworthy and overloaded and lack drinking water.

Atlantic crossings surged from late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.

In the first six months of 2023, 7,213 migrants reached the Canary Islands by boat, interior ministry figures show.

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